Saturday, August 19, 2006

public financing of elections

* some good responses again to the latest private company / govt provision / privatization / public domain post.

mamayaga notes (among other things) the corruption in private US healthcare industry. Anon notes that the VA system is a really good healthcare provider. LeeB wants govt provided healthcare, and also public financing of elections (as a solution to a bunch of ills, including the healthcare problem):
"Wouldn't it be refreshing to have congresscritters who were working for US, and because they didn't have to spend every other waking moment raising money for the next election, they would have time to read bills before voting on them, among other things. Then lobbyists could be making appointments for meetings and leaving their checkbooks back at the office. And individual constituents would have better luck getting their own appointments, too. Whatta concept!"
The american healthcare system is completely absurd to any of us who have lived anywhere else, and the election financing is perhaps even worse. The direct costs (per head) of an election campaign in the US is extraordinary - compared to say the UK - I can't remember the numbers - but i suspect that it's at least 10 times higher. The indirect costs probably magnify that by another 100-fold.

The bad news is that I havent seen anything to indicate any positive movement on the election financing front. the good news is that john kerry is trying to get something moving on the health care front:
"We are going to rescue health care by being bold and having the guts to try. I was at Faneuil Hall just a couple weeks ago laying out a plan to get health care for every man woman and child by 2012. There are 11 million children alone living in this country without health insurance. My KidsFirst plan, a part of a comprehensive health care plan, will actually save states billions of dollars and get every child covered. And I'm going to fight for this. Check out my plan at, tell me what you think."
Just to clarify - my 'purpose' of this series of posts has been two things. firstly, to note that there is a legitimate debate about when/where/how the private sector can/should be involved in delivering certain 'public' goods and services - and to tease out the nuances in the argument, and secondly to note that corruption is a serious problem in said delivery - regardless of who is providing the service.

A lot of the conversation has centered around, for example, the delivery of water - everyone seems to agree that water delivery should be a govt function. For example, here's anon:
"Water seems to me like one of the things you would least want to privatize. It's a natural resource that belongs to everyone -- and is also needed by everyone. The poor are as dependent on it as the rich, and lack of safe water leads to disease, which again affects everyone. The very idea that somebody ought to make a profit off it -- and be able to turn off the tap for non-payment -- is morally offensive.'
I generally agree - but what if I wrote:
"Food seems to me like one of the things you would least want to privatize. It's a natural resource that belongs to everyone -- and is also needed by everyone. The poor are as dependent on it as the rich, and lack of safe food leads to disease, which again affects everyone. The very idea that somebody ought to make a profit off it -- and be able to turn off the tap for non-payment -- is morally offensive.'
That's a little bit cheeky - but somewhat valid nonetheless - but we accept without even blinking that food is delivered via market environments. It's true that water-delivery is monopolistic and that the customers are 'captive' whereas people have options re food. I can't even remember what it used to be like when governments provided water - what happened if you didnt pay your 'rates' (as we used to call them here)?

A few people have jumped in with a "Halliburton" or an "Enron" - which is fine - but it doesnt really get to the core of the issue (public vs private provision). It's true that Halliburton is ripping of the govt and providing poor service (and is generally a criminal organization) - but it's also true that 1) the war was concocted by an evil government (albeit beholden to private interests) and 2) the troops don't have adequate armour etc.

Similarly, there's also the very valid argument against Blackwater (et al) mercenaries (again, in the context of public vs private) - yet all the technology and arms are purchased from (private companies) boeing and lockheed and the rest. again, i'm not arguing for one or the other - i'm simply noting that the lines that we draw are sometimes arbitrary.

and as i noted, if the system is broken and corrupt then it might not matter who is providing what.

romunov writes "Check Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway..." - and he's correct. all highly developed, functioning economies. Similarly, I'd offer New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Canada - and probably many others (in no order). It appears that there is a range of models which work - but the US is an outlier - which i suspect circles back to LeeB's comments about public financing of elections.

Can the US survive? Will it kill us all in the meantime? i dunno.


LeeB said...

Yay, Luke! Thanks for keeping this discussion going. A lot of good stuff is bubbling up here.

With respect to the water issue, I used that as an example in my first post on this topic for several reasons. Water is free. It is all around us and falls out of the sky. As a safe commodity, however, things get tricky pretty quickly for a number of reasons.

When opportunists jump in because they see all sorts of political and financial benefits to controlling supplies, things turn ugly pretty damned fast. [Watch a few old cowboy flicks if you need a refresher.] The Halliburton and Enron references are exactly on point with this. That Google search I linked earlier has ton of stuff about that and how Enron, for instance, played a huge role with disastrous consequences in Argentina.

Food, on the other hand, doesn't have the same issues, because as was pointed out, people have infinite options. The gov't role in food is about safety. Period. And that is not something I'm interested in trusting to corporations because they have a piss-poor record when it comes to putting individuals' safety ahead of their own bottom line. As was also pointed out earlier, we the people have more clout to make corrections when gov't (us) is the authority.

The issue of public financing of elections angle is huge. If y'all will allow a hasty, off-the-top-of-my-head recollection of the figures, consider this:

The total spent on the 2004 campaign in all national races - for president/VP; 1/3 of the Senate and 100% of the House was somewhere around $1 or $2 Billion (sorry, sloppy, I know, but I'm running on memory here -- anyhoo, it works for what's coming next . . . ). Some of that money came from individual donors but a great deal came from, as we all know, huge corporations and wealthy individuals with axes to grind and the clear expectation that their "investments" would pay off.

Now, let's single out the so-called Medicare Rx-reform legislation. bu$hCo, working through Tom DeLay and his cohorts, broke House rules to ram through, in the middle of the night, a truly monstrous bill that literally robs everyone as it provides a (what?) nearly $500 Billion windfall (just from the Treasury - this does not include the rapidly accelerating costs paid by individuals) to insurance companies and Big Pharma. Why did they do that? Well, the insurance companies and Big Pharma PAID them to do that, of course.

This corrupt "system" is what got whistleblower Bunny Greenhouse demoted for revealing the corruption in military contracting.

Take out the pay-to-play component and what are we left with? Wouldn't it be just peachy to be able to find out!

At the very least, taxpayers would save a bundle when comparing the actual cost of an election with the costs - to taxpayers - of all these corrupt earmarks and favors. (Remember, now they are telling us that the fiscal mess made by bu$hCo means every single American owes $28,000 of the national debt AT BIRTH.)

In my oversimplified examples, and getting back to the health care issue, this could well put the health care insurance companies totally out of business sob letting their executives go sit on their fancy, ill-gotten porches. boo-fuckin'-hooo *

* this one's for you, Rimone and Kathleen! ;-)

LeeB said...

Yo, Luke: I see I need to clarify something I forgot to do above. I don't want* government-provided health care; I want a single-payor health care system that covers EVERYBODY.

We have a number of folks ready, willing and able to leap to their feet screeching, "NO SOCIALIZED MEDICINE! NO SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!" so I think it would behoove us to avoid confusing the two concepts. "Confusion" is really easy to do (one reason resistance to health care reform finds so many supporters among plain ol' voters).

My rant is aimed at an "insurance" system that is not universal, and costs waaaaaay too much (including employment opportunities) because, among other things, it is profit-motivated.

* That said, mamayaga's tip on the new and improved VA system presents a fascinating model that totally destroys the idea that multi-layered reforms can't be effective on a very large scale. Read.

lukery said...

LeeB - some great input again.

the Pres campaign in 2004 cost $1.2bn

total 04 cost $3.9bn

i was gonna mention both Bunny and "NO SOCIALIZED MEDICINE! NO SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!" - so thanks for that!

boo-fuckin'-hooo - rotflmao :-)